Hot Stuff: Maria Kirilenko
Originally published on: 12/09/13 00:00
A player’s box complete with a coach, physiotherapist, hitting partner, fitness trainer and agent has become a familiar sight on tour in recent times but for Maria Kirilenko, who recently made her top ten debut, the phrase ‘less is more’ has never been more appropriate.
The softly spoken 26-year-old, who has graced the covers of tennis and lifestyle magazines the world over, travels light for a player ranked No.12. Her ‘team’, as she refers to it, consists of herself and dad, Yuri, who acts as his daughter’s coach, travel companion and source of news from the outside world as they tour the globe together for 30 weeks of the year.
Kirilenko’s father first introduced her to the sport when she was seven and since making her WTA main draw debut in Bali at the age of 15 she has gone on to win five singles titles and 12 doubles crowns including an Olympic doubles bronze medal at London 2012.
“I always had my father behind me and he was the one who has motivated me all the time,” said the self-assured Moscow native. “Even though some years it didn’t work for me how I wanted, he was always there. He’s a great person.”
Is it ever difficult to separate the dad from the coach? Kirilenko shakes her head. “I think we are a really good example because some of the other players, they are working with their dads but sometimes they are not listening to them,” she said. “I have such a good relationship with my dad. I can talk to him about whatever I want and when we finish practice we never talk about tennis.”
The Russian’s consistency this season has been as impressive as her solid all-court game. After making a run to the quarter-finals at Roland Garros she achieved a life-long ambition by taking her position among the game’s elite inside the top ten.
Kirilenko’s mind and movement are the main strengths at her disposal. She’s more likely to outwit than overpower and her hours of work off the court, which she modestly calls ‘nothing special’, are evident as she wears her opponents down.
“Every tournament I’m keeping my level and I’m not losing to anyone below my ranking,” said Kirilenko, who recently became engaged to professional ice hockey player Alex Ovechkin. “Now I am going on court and I feel that I have become a better player. I’ve become more, I don’t know the word, more clever? I’m understanding the game more, of course confidence as well, but there’s a lot of experience I’ve gotten in the years I’ve been playing. I’m now understanding how to play the important points.”
The 5ft 9in right-hander has placed her career upon her own shoulders and admits that, unlike the majority of her fellow competitors, she doesn’t need a team to motivate her. She prefers to drag herself out of bed in the morning, find her own solutions and pave her own path.
“Me, I’m different,” she said. “I know what I have to do before each practice so it’s all about myself, about my health. Now I really understand what I have to do and I always [listen to] my body. There is nobody really pushing me and for me it’s better like that.”
So far, Kirilenko has managed to push herself to the quarter-finals at three of the four Grand Slams. Can she go further? Well, that’s up to her.